Born in Vienna in 1947, West went on to study at the city’s Academy of Fine Arts. Among his early influences were Viennese Actionists such as Hermann Nitsch. Like them, he looked to challenge artistic orthodoxies, albeit in a less violent fashion.
He began his breakthrough series of works, known as the Passstucke, or ‘Adaptives’, in the mid-1970s. These were a range of quirkily shaped sculptures in papier-mâché or plaster, which the public were invited to pick up and use however they wished. Like most of the output across West's career, the Adaptives were abstract yet hinted at figuration: some were suggestive of items of clothing to be worn, for example, others of musical instruments to be played.
In the 1980s, he moved into making idiosyncratic pieces of furniture. This started with chairs welded together from scrap metal. With later pieces, West added upholstery, linings and, in the case of his famous 'Uncle chairs', woven textile straps in an array of colours. He also produced divans, chaises longues, tables and lamps — always tempting viewers to use them and thus contravene the age-old museum rule that art should simply be looked at.
West’s oeuvre is synonymous with playfulness, something exemplified by the 'Outdoor Sculptures' of his later years. These were large-scale constructions in exuberant shapes, which he painted in vivid colours such as candy pink or apple green. Typically these were made for display in public spaces, as a humorous alternative to what West deemed the pomposity of much public art, though they were often exhibited indoors too.
In 2011, he was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale. He died a year later, aged 65.
In 2017, his serpentine sculpture in pink, Untitled, sold for $871,500 at Christie’s — setting a record for the highest price paid for a work by West at auction.
The artist has been the subject of numerous retrospectives, the most comprehensive of which was held posthumously at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2018. This travelled to Tate Modern in London the following year.